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Laboratory chemicals: best practices at W.R. Grace: with such a wide variety of chemicals in circulation in the labs, inventory management is a key issue.

The last two issues of Laboratory Equipment have reviewed regulatory issues that laboratories face in handling chemicals and described approaches to stay in compliance. What best practices does a major chemical company embrace to ensure that its laboratories remain in compliance, and underlying that, to maintain the safest possible work environment?

W.R. Grace (Columbia, MD) is the world's largest producer of catalysts with 400 scientists, engineers and technical staff working in R&D, supporting its $2.6-billion/year businesses. Grace spent $59 million on R&D in 2005 and is increasing spending to $70 million in 2006, developing new petroleum refining and polymerization catalysts for its Grace Davison unit, as well as new sealants, silicas and construction chemicals for its Performance Chemicals division. Grace has 24 labs worldwide. Five labs are in the U.S. (Columbia, MD; Baltimore, MD; Deerfield, IL; Hesperia, CA; and Cambridge, MA) and the rest worldwide, in Germany, Brazil, Malaysia, Japan, China, France, Italy, Poland, Singapore, Philippines, Australia, Thailand and Mexico.

The challenges of regulatory compliance and safety in handling chemicals in labs center on the very diverse range of chemicals used, say Grace representatives. Grace researchers need access to a wide range of chemicals that can change from day to day. Many of these chemicals pose handling issues and require risk management screening, says Brett Jurd, senior environmental specialist for Grace's corporate environmental health and safety (EH&S) department. The very diverse range of chemicals also poses challenges in inventory management, he adds. The ever-changing chemicals line-up poses challenges in waste handling, for example the need--both from a safety as well as regulatory angle--that different chemical wastes be segregated. Labs also have to comply with complicated federal and local regulations on satellite accumulation areas (SAAs).

Grace has developed a number of best practices to meet these challenges. Training of lab personnel is a major focus at Grace, including computer-based training and hands-on classroom type training. Lab chemists sometimes need to be counseled on "good housekeeping" for chemicals, particularly on waste disposal, says Nizam Usta, facility project manager for Grace Performance Chemicals, based in Cambridge, MA. That requires ongoing training, and occasional walk-through-the-lab monitoring, he adds.

Grace finds that new hires coming from universities need plenty of orientation, Usta says. "The industrial world is very different from the academic world," he explains. Grace's Cambridge lab has instituted a system of mentoring, says director of facilities David Croce. This way, a seasoned employee coaches a new hire on Grace's standards, regulations, and safety procedures, Croce says. One such approach the company regards as a best practice is its hazard review procedure, which enables the labs to assess operations before they are performed.

Central to Grace's approach to managing compliance is a rigorous system of periodic inspections of laboratories. These occur monthly at a minimum, and "cover everything you can think of," says Jurd, with a 50-point checklist. The inspection checks that laboratory safety equipment such as safety showers and eye wash stations are working and checks the velocities of fume hoods. The checklist includes correct labelingand storage of chemicals, up-to-date training records, and verification of site safety procedures and confirms that lab employees have read the materials safety data sheets (MSDSs) for the chemicals they are working with. In the waste area, the checklist includes labeling of waste containers and verification of secondary containment of hazardous materials.

The inspection is not carried out by EH&S personnel but by the laboratory staffers themselves. This way it becomes effectively a self-audit, which familiarizes laboratory professionals with the regulations and encourages the actual users of the chemicals to take ownership of the compliance implementation, Jurd explains. Grace also rotates the inspections among the laboratory staff over an 18-month cycle to make sure there is always "a fresh set of eyes carrying out the inspection," he adds.

With such a wide variety of chemicals in circulation in the labs, inventory management is a key issue, say Grace officials. Besides regulatory compliance aspects, proliferation of hazardous chemicals poses safety issues and complicates waste disposal. Lab chemists need many chemicals for their research but typically in very small quantities; most chemicals vendors, however, sell in large quantities, notes Jurd. Grace therefore encourages its researchers to use an online inventory system. At its Cambridge facility, for example, the chemical inventory software tracks chemicals from when they arrive in the labs until they are used or disposed of. This way, a researcher needing a chemical has to check if a colleague already has it on the premises before ordering. The online system also facilitates dissemination of hazard information and regular inventory checks for expired chemicals, says Croce. Grace favors lab chemical suppliers who package in very small quantities, reducing disposal costs and helping Grace meet its waste-reduction goals.

To stay up to date on regulations that affect laboratories, Grace participates in industry groups and liaises with universities and customers, Jurd says. It also conducts its own reviews of new rules and uses regulatory information services.

AT A GLANCE

* W.R. Grace is the world's largest producer of catalysts

* Diverse chemicals pose inventory management and waste handling challenges

* Training of lab personnel is a major focus at Grace

* Periodic lab inspections is central to managing compliance

* Chemical inventory software tracks chemicals and facilitates dissemination of hazard information

About W.R. Grace

* Grace has 24 labs worldwide, including five in the U.S.

* Grace Davison (Grace's $1.4-billion/year catalyst business) has four labs in the U.S., at Columbia, MD; Baltimore, MD; Deerfield, IL; and Hesperia, CA. It has five labs in the rest of the world, in Germany, Brazil, Malaysia, Japan, and China.

* Grace Performance Chemicals (Grace's $1.2-billion/year sealants, construction chemicals and specialty silicas unit) has one lab in the U.S. at Cambridge, MA, and 14 labs in the rest of the world, in Germany, France, Italy, Poland, U.K., Singapore, China, Philippines, Australia, Thailand, Brazil, and Mexico.

ONLINE

For additional information on W.R. Grace visit the following Web site:

* www.grace.com
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Title Annotation:Chemicals & Supplies
Publication:Laboratory Equipment
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Words:1004
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